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Charlotte, North Carolina: City of Champions

Visitors can feel the force of driving at 160 miles per hour, get stomach butterflies from rafting up a tall wave or experience the excitement of steering their own Segway vehicle at experiential sports attractions in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Queen City’s passion for sports runs deep, with stadiums and arenas seemingly around every corner. Charlotte hosts more than 200 sporting events a year, and past events have included a PGA Championship and a NASCAR All-Star Race.

Groups can not only watch these events from the sidelines but also jump into their own NASCAR vehicle at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. The city’s wide-ranging experiential sports activities include such options as the wet and wild rapids at the U.S. National White Water Center, the calmer Segway city tours and NASCAR race simulations.

Richard Petty Driving Experience

At the Richard Petty Driving Experience, participants can choose between riding around a track with a professional driver for breakneck speeds or hopping into the driver’s seat themselves. The company offers three- or six-lap shotgun rides or firsthand racing sessions that last five minutes or more.

“On the ride-along experience, you reach speeds greater than 150 miles per hour,” said Kristen Moore, communications manager for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. “You can feel that force when you round the turn. It’s a really cool experience.”

The race cars zoom around the Charlotte Motor Speedway, which hosts numerous prestigious NASCAR events, such as the Bank of America 500. Richard Petty, nicknamed the King of NASCAR, started the program to introduce fans to the thrill of maneuvering a powerful race car.

Those who drive themselves meet for classroom instruction before hitting the accelerator. Once behind the wheel, they can pass other drivers, use car radios and halt for pit stops.

NASCAR Hall of Fame

For people who have always wondered whether they could reach the speeds of professional NASCAR drivers, there is no easier way to test their skills than at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“It’s an interactive experience and not a museum,” said Moore. “They have a really hands-on experience with realistic simulations. It’s all experiential learning.”

The Racing Simulators exhibit offers one of the most realistic virtual driving experiences that technology can provide. Guests can race alongside up to 15 virtual cars for a hands-on way to discover the many complications that arise on a lap around the track. Simulated races are broadcasted on a 50-foot video screen so group members can cheer each other on.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame features more than 50 interactive attractions, such as the Pit Crew Challenge. Nearly 1,000 artifacts and 40,000 square feet of exhibit space also pay tribute to the history and heritage of NASCAR.

The site introduces guests to the NASCAR world with a primer video at the Belk High Octane Theater. From there, Glory Road houses 18 race cars built for speed on a 33-degree banked ramp.

The Hall of Honor showcases its honorees on a 360-degree wall for an impressive visual effect.

U.S. National Whitewater Center

Paddlers zig right and zag left as water tosses them down the rapids at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. The center is home to the world’s largest man-made whitewater river, a rock wall, zip lines and other outdoor adventure attractions.

Groups can paddle down 12 million gallons of water on one or both whitewater routes. The Wilderness Channel offers calmer Class II and III rapids, and the Competition Channel delivers heart-pounding Class III and IV rapids.

“They can create a program around building communication, leadership or just a shared experience,” said Moore. “It can be very generic like rafting with a group or customized into an adventure race where the teams compete.”

The center also offers other adventures by water, including kayaking on the rapids or stand-up paddleboarding and flatwater kayaking at the nearby Catawba River. Whitewater kayakers might float past Olympic hopefuls, since the route serves as an official Olympic Training Center for the sport.

To look down on the center’s 1,300 acres from above, guests can enjoy zip lines, ropes courses, a canopy tour and rock climbing. On the first permanent deep-water solo climbing complex in the world, participants climb without ropes or harnesses on a wall that arches over a 20-foot-deep pool. Climbers release from the wall and fall into the pool at the completion of the challenge.

The center also offers bicycle trails and low ropes challenge courses amid the forested interior.

After raising the heart rate, groups can marvel over the day’s adventures at the on-site Pump House Biergarten or the River’s Edge Bar and Grill.

Segway Tours

Instead of slowly walking through the city, guests can glide throughout Charlotte’s interesting parks, buildings and neighborhoods on a Segway. The city’s only locally owned full-service tour company, Charlotte NC Tours offers both Segway and bicycle tours as an active way to experience the history, food and famous sites of the Queen City.

The popular Segway tours range in length from the one-hour Fun Ride to the two-hour Markets, Museums and Parks Tour. Topics include the Dilworth-Myers Park’s hip spaces, some acclaimed tastes along the Taste and Glide Tour and the city’s diverse architecture in historic Uptown.

“It’s a great intro to the city,” said Moore. “You get a training on the Segway when you go in. The guides there are awesome. They tell you everything you don’t know about Charlotte.”

One-on-one training with guides ensures that each participant learns to comfortably maneuver a Segway before departing. Usually within five to 10 minutes of personalized instruction, riders feel confident enough to take off. Guides then take the riders along sidewalks and paths while passionately sharing the intriguing history of the area.

The bicycle tours offer a similar experience with more exercise involved. The three-hour Southern Food Bicycle Tour allows riders to work off their calories as they dine at culinary hot spots such as the Seventh Street Public Market, Mert’s Heart and Soul, and Alexander Michael’s.

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